This article first appeared at the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, October 13, 2014:
Some Republicans are beginning to lick their chops in anticipation of a takeover of the Senate in November. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised to rein in Obamacare, pass a real budget, and hold hearings on the EPA’s onerous greenhouse gas regulations – which would resonate positively with his coal-fired constituents in Kentucky.
The Republican Wish List also includes the Keystone XL pipeline, more hearings on the IRS scandal and the mess at the Veterans Administration, plus a reopening of the controversial release of five Gitmo detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bowie Bergdahl. And of course, there’s the Fast And Furious gun walking operation which has lately fallen off the radar.
The reality is that any Republican victory in the Senate would be razor-thin, sharply limiting that party’s ability to do anything substantive. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who would likely become chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, has promised to challenge every EPA regulation. But the chances of getting 60 votes in order to override the inevitable Obama veto on more substantive issues would be between slim and none.
Even this is predicated upon a win by Republicans in November, which is far from certain. Nate Silver, one of the more prescient and accurate prognosticators of events political, gives Republicans a 57.9% chance of winning, while giving the Democrats just a 42.1% chance of keeping their present majority. But it’s far more complicated than that. Said Silver:
The math seems easy enough. If Republicans win six seats held by Democrats without losing any seats of their own, they’ll take control the Senate.
But this view both oversimplifies and overcomplicates the Senate landscape. It oversimplifies it because the contingency in the sentence above – “without losing any seats of their own” – is a huge assumption.
Silver says that there are six “maroon” states – between red and blue – that really control the outcome: Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Louisiana. According to Silver, Republican candidates in each of the states have between a 65% and a 75% chance of winning. But, he says, the chances of the Republican candidate winning in all six of those states is very low – just 24%. On the other hand, if Republicans win five of those six states, then the chances of them taking over the Senate rise to 84%.
Leo happens to agree with Silver. Leo is a computer model designed by Justin Wolfers, along with his colleagues at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Leo is an economic forecaster rather than a political one, which emphasizes the impact of a healthy – or not so healthy – economy on the election in November. Wrote Wolfers:
Even as unemployment has fallen, the proportion of the population with a job has barely risen, gross domestic product is merely puttering along, and wages are barely rising for most workers.
What is Leo’s track record? In November 2012, Leo accurately called the winner in every Senate race but one: North Dakota. Leo predicted that the Republican candidate would beat Heidi Heitkamp by one percentage point. Instead, Heitkamp won the contest by one percentage point.
Leo has made 172 Election Day predictions over the last five election cycles, and has called all but four of them correctly. Leo’s developer now says:
There’s a 69% chance that Republicans will win the Senate. This forecast is clear, it’s precise, it’s quantitative (in that it acknowledges and specifies uncertainty), and it’s easily evaluated.
In other words, it’s terrible punditry, but good economics.
There used to be the online political betting site called Intrade, but it was shut down by the US government. In its place has popped up Betfair, run out of Great Britain, which agrees with Leo: Republicans have a 69% chance of taking control the Senate in November.
And then there’s Chris Cillizza, the political prognosticator, writing for the Washington Post, who looks at this whole business a little differently. Cillizza is persuaded that, as the president goes, so goes the Senate. With the president’s polling numbers dropping, in some cases into the 30s, Democrats running in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, Kansas and North Carolina are going to have a tough time in November. And in one of the swing states, Colorado, Obama’s approval numbers among independents are so low that the race between Democrat Mark Udall and Republican challenger Cory Gardner is now a dead heat.
Michael Barone, who writes for the Washington Examiner, also tracks President Obama’s approval rating, noting that his “approval is well below 50% in all 14 of the [most highly contested] states…. And none of the Democratic candidates, including the six incumbents, in these 14 states is polling at 50% or above.” Barone explained:
Looking back over the past six Senate cycles going back to 2002…, I found that only two incumbent senators who were polling below 45% at this stage in the electoral cycle went on to win.
Pollsters working for the Senate Republicans campaign committee, Brad Dayspring and Brooke Hougeson, explained why independent voters are so critical:
Voters who are familiar with an incumbent but do not support him on the ballot are essentially window-shopping for a new senator. That is why this group of voters traditionally breaks against the incumbent by a two-to-one margin.
In other words, for every four undecided voters, one will typically vote for the incumbent, two will vote for the challenger, and one will stay home.
This means that for every point the incumbent is short of 50%, he needs 4% of voters in the undecided category to make up for it. An incumbent senator sitting at 45% in the polls needs undecided voters to total 20% in his or her state to make up for it, or the math just doesn’t work.
This translates into an uphill battle for Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Udall in Colorado, and Mary Landrieu in Louisiana.
Assuming that Republicans escape with a win in November, it’s more than likely that their wish list will remain just that. Gridlock will remain, with little substantive action on critical issues in the freedom fight. At best, a Republican win will simply translate into more noise and posturing as the Republicans become focused on the presidential election in 2016.
Washington Examiner: Democrats’ plight in Senate races revealed
The New York Times: Who Will Lead the Senate? Follow the Prediction Markets
The New York Times: Meet Leo, Our Senate Model
Politico: Would a GOP Senate be king of the world?